I have an Oklahoma City Barons sweater.
That sweater is dark navy with copper, white, and red stripes on the sleeve. It has a tight v-neck design that is tailored perfectly for a head, two ears, two eyes, and a mess of hair to squeeze through. The back is stitched with breathable fabric that is perfect for early October heat and late May playoff pushes. The front features a nearly 24″ logo, the traditional Barons mark. The left shoulder has an OKC Barons oil drop, the right the iconic Edmonton Oilers logo. The sleeves are the perfect length, hitting me on the wrist as the radius and ulna meet, but not too far past where the carpals begin. It is comfortable, well worn, easy to clean, and perhaps my favorite article of clothing.
That sweater is torn near the forearm not because it was worn by a warrior grappling with another on the ice. No, that tear came as I was celebrating a Linus Omark game-winner, and the sleeve caught the edge of the armrest in section 202 years ago. There is a stain around the bottom edge where a pre-game Kool-Aid accident nearly ruined my day. The bright red faded to dark brown by the time the puck dropped. It smells like Dreft most of the time, but on some Fridays and Saturdays it becomes a saturated mess. It hugs my body perfectly, and it makes wearing a belt optional. It has been worn with blue jeans, casual dress slacks, shorts, and even a bathing suit one time. I once wore it for 24 hours straight.
That sweater reminds me of moments in time. It was worn the week my second child, a son, was born. I wore it when my father-in-law was being treated for prostate cancer. I wore it to Halloween parties to family get-togethers to places outside of the Oklahoma City limits. At least a half-dozen times I wore it to church. It became a part of my trips to the rink. It encouraged my daughter to get one of her own. I wore it when I was sad. I wore it when I was happy. I wore it when I was angry. I wore it when I was disappointed. I wore it – always – with pride.
That sweater reminds me of people. When I saw someone wearing one of their own I gave a quick “Hi!” or even a wave or nod like motorcyclists do on the highway. As if some unwritten code had been magically woven into the fabric, the person would always return the greeting with a version of their own. The sweater was there when the Cox Center flooded, and people were huddled (team included) in the bowels of the arena. It was there when Teemu Hartikainen injured his shoulder. It was there when the day game was nearly cancelled due to wintry weather. It was there when the Texas Stars beat them into submission. It was there when the Barons returned the favor. It was there when pucks-were-chucked, when kisses were made on cameras, when sumo wrestlers tackled, and humans were bowled. It was there when Shawn Belle was named the first recall in Barons history. It was there when Nelson coached his final game. It survived dollar beer nights (I’ve been told). It was worn by many, despised by some, honored by others, and reviled by few. They were seen in Peoria, San Antonio, Rochester, Houston, Utica, Edmonton, Calgary, and a host of other cities. It was worn by the rich, the poor, the educated, the uneducated. It was bought for boys, girls, men, women, dogs, cats, and other forms of life that needed more hockey in their lives. Whether it was seen on a season ticket holder, a flex plan buyer, a professional, a law man, a contractor, a pastor or a dancer it was always donned with gratitude, never regret.
That sweater reminds me of things it will never see. The Calder Cup Finals, and a crowd consistently large at the Cox Center.
That sweater reminds me of stories. Stories of people who first discovered hockey. About how they fell in love at a hockey game, and are getting married. How it gave them an escape from the “real world”. How it helped heal hurt, and soften the world that is so hard.
That sweater reminds me of hockey players. 155 players to be exact. From Camberon Abney to Teigan Zahn, Kiril Tulupov to Jordan Bendfeld – they all meant something. They were old, young, new, veteran, good, sketchy, fun, dangerous, easy to love, impossible to tolerate, strong, weak, sturdy, injury-riddled, but always cognizant of what that sweater truly meant. They earned the right to wear it, to play in it, to put apart of it through years of hard work.
That sweater tell me that there is more to come. The community that was built around that sweater is strong. It has withstood the test of time, and the disappearance of a hockey team before. It will remain strong through a common bond of hockey love. It might grow faint, but it will never go away. Truthfully it might grow in numbers, as crazy as that sounds.
That sweater will always exist.
That sweater will always be important.
That sweater will always mean something greater than just one person or player.
I love my Oklahoma City Barons sweater. Chances are, you do too.